The sky was growing darker. The clouds began to roil, deep grey against deeper blue. Ringmaster Gordon de Raptor adjusted his top hat to sit a little more snugly on his head and pushed onwards into the icy wind. He didn’t normally feel the cold. He had been born in the mountains, after all, where summer merely meant that the water wasn’t frozen for three months. By comparison, Lawndon winters were practically room temperature. Today, however, the chill in the air cut him to the bone. He shivered. “Stoke the fires!” he barked at a passing carnie. “No one wants to come to a cold carnival!”
The pony quickly nodded, and scuttled off. For a brief moment, Gordon felt a pang of sympathy for his employee. If he felt cold, he could only imagine how the natives must feel. Then, a brisk breeze ruffled his pinions and he turned back to the problem at talon. It was Hearth’s Warming Eve. This was meant to be the biggest, most grandiose day of the carnival. All of Lawndon would be out celebrating, and the throngs of the crowds would flood into the fair.
At least, that was the idea. In this weather? He would have to work a lot harder. Thunder rumbled overhead, and Gordon stifled a curse. A storm? On Hearth’s Warming? What were the weatherponies thinking? And where had Maple gone? She should’ve been back with Climber ages ago. Dark thoughts swirled around the ringmaster’s head like the stormclouds above.
It wasn’t as fun as ponies thought, running a carnival. It was less like being the head clown, and more like a fantastical juggling act. It took a special kind of mind to keep everything up in the air, and it wasn’t the sort of mind that tended to laugh a lot. It took precise calculation and ruthless determination to keep the performers and workers in line. He glowered at the sideshow tent. Dr. Climber had been undermining his power from the day he’d started here. He was always off gallivanting after some new exhibit. Whenever he actually was at work, he constantly needled Gordon for a higher salary. What was worse, Gordon always found himself giving in to the unicorn’s demands. He had been letting it go on for far too long. The next time he saw that charlatan, he vowed silently, it would be the last. He trudged into the wind, glaring at nothing in particular. Nothing in particular gazed back, an amused smirk on its invisible, intangible face.
The wind howled around the three travelers, the snow stinging their faces. Nopony was out in the streets now. They were all inside, gathered with their friends and family around the ceremonial fires of the holiday, eating, drinking, and generally being merry. Nopony should be alone on Hearth’s Warming. It was a time for joy and love and togetherness. The weather, however, stood in bleak contrast to that ideal. The snow was so blinding, it was almost impossible to see the streetlamps. The icy chill bit and whipped and cut the flesh asunder. “I think I can almost hear my skin drying out,” Maple grumbled.
The Doctor paused for a moment. “Nah. Just the wind. Skin drying out sounds much different. Trust me. But I’ll get you some moisturizer or something when we get back to the TARDIS.”
“I don’t understand why we’re doing this,” Rumble said. “I mean, we came from a couple of centuries into the future, right? And the Intelligence hadn’t taken over the world or whatever. So, what’s the problem?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” the Doctor replied, raising his voice to be heard over the howl of the wind. “Time is flexible. We’ve come from a future, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the future. It’s entirely possible that the Intelligence takes over the world tonight and destroys your timeline.”
Rumble paused. “Uh. What happens then?”
“To you personally? Nothing, really. You’re just stuck in the wrong timeline. Either you were never born, or there's an alternate version of you wandering around... It’s awkward.”
“Oh,” said Rumble, relieved.
“As for the rest of the world…” the Doctor sucked in through his teeth. “Well. Let’s not be morbid about it.”
“Oh,” said Rumble, much less relieved.
“What does this thing even want?” Maple asked, holding a hoof up to shield her eyes from a sudden icy gust.
“The Intelligence?” the Doctor asked. “Well. Revenge against me, for a start. Also, a physical form. Not just possessing things, but a body all of its own.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Rumble said.
“No?” the Doctor asked. “Last time it tried, it nearly killed a whole monastery to get enough energy to exist properly. It’d go on killing, too, to make the body last. Does that still sound 'not too bad?'”
Rumble was silent. “I didn’t know,” he said quietly.
There was a long moment. “I know." The Doctor huffed a massive sigh. "I’m sorry I was being sharp.”
They struggled along in silence for a few seconds. “Do either of you actually know where we are?” the Doctor asked suddenly.
The others stopped and exchanged glances. The silence thickened. “...No,” Rumble admitted.
“Me neither,” Maple said.
The Doctor sat down heavily. “Right,” he said. “So to sum up, we’re lost in a city that only one of us really knows well, likely being stalked by an intangible, invisible evil that wants to kill everypony and could strike at any time. Am I missing anything?”
Another howl of wind sprung up. But this one sounded less like the wind, and more like…
A large, furry figure appeared in the snow. Its arms swung akimbo, and its eyes were bright blue. The Yeti growled and advanced on the trio. “Oh, there’s always something, isn’t there?” the Doctor groaned. “Run!”
Their hooves pounded on the pavement. Their hearts pounded in their chests. Snow flew behind them. The Yeti roared defiantly and loped after them. Its lolloping gait was not quick, but its strides were wide. It reached out a long, shaggy arm and swiped at the trio. The Doctor and Maple skidded around a corner, but Rumble ran straight on. The creature followed.
His breaths were short and labored. His lungs were fire. His flesh, ice. He ran on. It was close behind him. Its fingers brushed the tip of his tail. Its breath made clouds of steam in the air. Still he ran. He could escape. He could get away. He would run and run until the beast was no longer there, he would run until he was safe, he would run—
His hooves met a patch of ice and he slipped. He grunted in pain as he crashed to the street. It was looming over him in the space of a moment, raising its arm to deliver a deadly blow. “NO!” Rumble cried.
The creature hesitated. Rumble stared up at it, hardly believing his luck. Why had it stopped? The creature’s eyes burned bluer for a second. Then, with a snarl, it struck at Rumble, but he had already rolled under its legs and sprung back up on his hooves.
Its breath made clouds around it. It was breathing. It was still alive somehow! There was a living creature in there! The Doctor’s words from earlier floated back to the colt. 'I’d wager that putting itself in all those sideshow exhibits spread it too thin. Too many bodies, not enough Intelligence.'
Rumble’s eyes narrowed as the Yeti wheeled around to face him. It roared. “Wait,” said Rumble. “Listen to me.”
It paused once again, and this time the colt took advantage of that. “You feel that thing in your head?” he asked. “That cold thing, cold and blue and angry? It’s hurting you, isn’t it? It’s making you hurt others.”
The Yeti snarled and made to move forward, but just as suddenly jerked back. Rumble continued to speak quietly. “I don’t know why it’s doing this. I don’t know what it wants. But you don’t have to let it hurt you.”
The Yeti tilted its head to one side, regarding the colt with curiosity in its eyes. Rumble looked directly back. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “What do you want?”
The creature’s eyes hardened. It moved forward, and Rumble flinched, but it stopped in mid-motion. It placed a hand against an invisible wall. The colt breathed out slowly, half in realization and half in relief. “You were a captive,” he said slowly. “You wanted to break free.”
The creature’s eyes turned a brighter blue. “Rather more than that,” it said in a rasp. “She was stared at, laughed at, day after day, a prisoner. She was a freak, kept solely to be ogled and humiliated for the rest of her life. I made her an offer to be something more.”
Rumble’s eyes darkened. “Get out of that Yeti, Intelligence.”
The Yeti examined its fingernails thoughtfully. “Hm. Tempting offer, but I’m afraid I’ll have to refuse.”
Rumble nodded. “Alright. Yeti, get him out of there.”
The creature laughed. “You can’t seriously believe that this beast could overpower ME. I am powerful beyond your puny imagining! I am as a god! I am—” his face contorted, and for a second, blue eyes flickered brown. “I am—” he repeated, a little more strain evident. A hand went to his forehead. “Impossible,” he gasped.
“Listen to me,” Rumble said. “You’re angry. You’re scared. You’re outside of everything you ever thought you knew. You want to hurt things. I get it. I’ve been there, believe me.” He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “But that isn’t how you fix things,” he said. “Drive everypony away, and what’s different from your old situation? Nothing, except now they’re hurt too.”
The blue eyes flickered to brown once again, for a little longer this time. “You have to trust me,” Rumble said. “Let me help you.”
The bright, icy blue burned almost white for a moment before fading to a warm, deep, golden-brown. The Yeti heaved a ragged breath and stumbled, stabilizing herself against a wall. After a moment's recovery, she turned and looked at the colt. She reached out a hand. After another moment, he placed his hoof in the massive palm. They gazed at each other solemnly for a few seconds. Then, together, they turned and walked back the way they had come.